August 4th, 2015
With the heavy weather clearing out, it was time for us to do the same. Pulling out of C-Quarter marina early that morning, we headed back down the Carrabelle River and out into St. George Sound. It’s about 5 miles to Dog Island.
Not much is let out about this island. The locals do their best to keep it preserved and visitors limited. There are a few anchorages along the island, deep enough for passing sailboats staging their Gulf crossings. Studying our charts, I noticed Tyson’s Harbor. The entrance to the harbor is surrounded by shifting shoals, so insight from locals was a touchy subject but well worth asking about.
A little history on Dog Island
Human presence dates back to over 8,000 years ago, with the recovery of a 9th century canoe. The French stumbled upon the island in 1536. Smugglers used the island in the 17th and 18th centuries. A book was also written by a ship-wreck survivor Monsieur Pierre Viaud. In 1766 his brigantine ‘Le Tigre’ wrecked 300 yards east of Dog Island. Click here for a free copy of the book.
The island gets its name for a few suggested reasons. First, wild dogs were found all over the island. Second, an aerial view of the island may resemble a crouching dog. Third, the early ships put their common sailors – known as dogs – on the islands before docking on the mainland so they could not jump ship.
With less than 100 structures built on the island to this date, there are not many year round locals, and some mainland families vacation and weekend at the island. The Pelican Inn seems to be the only establishment catering to tourists. Numerous wrecks surround the island. Many hurricanes have swept right over it through-out the centuries as well. There is a grass air-strip from the 1930’s still in use. The car ferry will bring visitors over for a fee, with or without their vehicle. With no stores, the only modern luxury of the island is electricty cables run out from the mainland. If you come to visit, you must pack all your own gear. Most come by boat or kayak and spend their time fishing and sea-combing. Being a bird sanctuary, sea turtle nesting area, with protected vegetation – the island is kept lush and prestine, almost alone on the edge of the Gulf.
The entrance to Tyson’s Harbor had a few shoals to weave around. There were Red and Green markers, but the sands shift so much that they are only suggested markers. Luckily we came in the morning when it was calm and the water was clear. Docking at the Dog Island Yacht Club, we tied off in one of the marked Transient slips. Immediately heading ashore, past the lot of 4×4 vehicles left on the island for visitors, near the small grass airstrip, and quickly across to see the conditions of the Gulf.
Dog Island is about 6.5 miles long, 1/4 mile wide at the most, and 100 yards wide at the least. With all these fronts passing by the past week or so, the Gulf was still chopped up but seemed to be calming. And when I say this, I do not mean the breakers you immediately see ashore, look past that. “Marching elephants” on the horizon shows us that there is still a healthy roll way out there. The plan was to come out to the island to see the Gulf’s conditions as we stage our crossing of The Big Bend.
My father spent the afternoon surf fishing while I took a long walk to the North East tip. There were a lot of marked sea turtle nests and big tide pools full of sea life. The way the island wraps, the shoals and sand bars are built up quite nice for potential surf. With mutltiple options for wind and swell direction, long rides on a skimboard or a longboard can easily be sought after. It would have been nice to stay for more than just one day to witness some swell and catch some waves. With the weather clearing and the swell fading out, our window to cross the Gulf was quite small.
Dog Island – another gem we were fortunate enough to pass through. A paradise all its own, hidden in America. If you choose to visit, leave nothing behind and show respect to the locals.